SNAP has long been America’s most effective and efficient anti-hunger initiative, and currently provides benefits to 41 million Americans. One of the aims of the current House version of the 2018 Farm Bill is to encourage workforce participation through changing eligibility requirements for SNAP. While the Congressional Hunger Center agrees that all Americans should have access to meaningful work, there is no evidence that restricting SNAP enrollment based on employment will significantly boost workforce participation—indeed, it will only increase the occurrence of hunger in communities across the country.
Currently, SNAP recipients are required to work to receive benefits if they are under 50 years of age and have no dependent children. Expansion of work requirements in the draft Farm Bill would increase the age to 60, and rescind the exception for parenthood, jeopardizing the food security of millions of Americans.
Evidence from the period of transition from AFDC to TANF in the 1990s shows that work requirements tied to public benefits do not promote an increase in workplace participation over time1. While the rationale for work requirements is to prevent people from becoming “trapped” in poverty through dependence on benefits, the research shows that work requirements are just as likely to keep people in poverty, or even leave them poorer than before.
The fact is that a majority of SNAP recipients who can work, do work2, though frequently in jobs with a high degree of instability3, leading recipients to cycle in and out of employment or gain and lose hours over time. Cutting off SNAP benefits to people in such scenarios punishes the workers for the erratic scheduling behavior of the employer. Furthermore, work requirements do nothing to encourage investors, employers, or entrepreneurs to create more jobs for low-wage earners: they only punish people for living in places where there are no jobs, or where the only jobs available are beyond their level of qualification.
There are some elements of the Farm Bill that we believe would improve the efficacy of SNAP in reducing hunger. The increase in the cap on household assets would increase the resilience of low-wage earners by allowing them to save for unexpected expenses without losing access to benefits. Likewise, the updated vehicle allowance acknowledges the vital connection between access to transportation and access to work. However, the expansion of work requirements would entirely overshadow these improvements by removing sorely-needed SNAP benefits from millions of Americans.
The good news is that we know some great ways to promote workforce participation that don’t involve taking benefits away from anyone:
- Regulating unfair scheduling practices and pay inequality would go a long way toward increasing economic stability for the lowest-wage workers.
- Increasing the federal minimum wage, which has not increased since 2009 despite 16.3% inflation over the past decade, would mean fewer workers relying on assistance programs to cover food and basic necessities.
- Expanding the EITC is one of the most powerful and proven incentives for employment. Investments in affordable childcare, safe and affordable housing, and re-training would make it easier for parents to work outside the home and allow people who have been left behind by the economy to find new ways of re-joining the workforce.
The Congressional Hunger Center urges Congress to commit to making reforms that will ensure dignified and stable jobs for everyone and to reject punitive and ineffective work requirements for public benefits that would increase food insecurity for millions of Americans.